D. Drawer Construction and Drawer Fitting
When building a drawer for a table I make sure that I build the drawer a tad wider than the drawer opening in the table. Why? Because I want the drawer to fit perfectly snug, and I want to make a custom fit. If you build the drawer box to the exact dimensions of your opening, then there’s a good chance that the drawer will be too lose in the opening. I try to make the drawer about 1/16th of an inch wider than the opening. If you build the drawer any wider, then you’ll be doing a whole lot of handplaning in the drawer fitting stage.
Assembling the Dovetail Drawer Box
Now it’s time to assemble the drawer parts. The sides of the drawers are attached to the drawer front using half-blind dovetail joints, and the sides are attached to the back using through-dovetail joints.
I first attach one drawer side to the drawer front, with the half-blind dovetail joint (pictured above. I then attach the drawer back to that first drawer side.
I finish assembling the drawer frame by attaching the second side to the drawer front and drawer back:
Next I glue up the dovetail drawer box, taking extra care to ensure that the drawer box is square before the glue dries. But I don’t add the drawer bottom yet, since I’ll be sliding in a solid drawer bottom after I ammonia fume and finish the drawer front and drawer box.
Fitting the drawer to the table
After the glue on the drawer box is dried (I wait overnight, just to be careful), I fit the drawer box to the opening of the table.
As I mentioned earlier, I make the drawer box about 1/16-inch wider than the opening, so I can custom fit the drawer with a hand plane. The drawer shouldn’t fit in the opening at first. I use a smoothing plane (see my handplane guide here) to take fine shavings from both sides of the drawer box until the drawer box slides in perfectly.
The drawer fitting process also includes handplaning a tad off the top and bottom of the drawer front, to create a very slight space above and below the drawer front, called a “reveal”. The top and bottom reveal prevents the drawer from hanging up, and also helps aesthetically balance the reveal that was created when handplaning the drawer sides.
To me, a perfect fit means that the drawer requires a little pressure to get the drawer box to go inside the table, but not so much that it requires too much effort. And a loose drawer would be wobbling around. Watch my video at the top of this page to see how my drawer slides in.
I know this was just a quick explanation on fitting a drawer, but the topic of fitting a drawer could require a whole article on it’s own, depending on how deep you want to delve. You can either just go ahead and experiment with what I just mentioned, or if you want a really good lesson on drawer fitting, here is a great DVD on making fine custom-fit drawers:
Finishing the drawer box
After my drawers are glued up and snugly fit to the table, I use a block plane to bevel the tops of the drawer sides to prevent dings from showing up. You can also see how nice the half-blind dovetails look after the drawer sides have been hand planed for fitting.
The marking gauge line remains visible, which is historically accurate, so don’t try to sand them out! I also finish the secondary wood parts of the drawer (sides, back, and bottom) with a few coats of thinned down dewaxed shellac (scuffing between coats with steel wool). And later, after finishing the drawer front and table, I add a beeswax wood finish / beeswax polish for a little extra protection and sheen.
The shellac and beeswax wood finish gives the drawer box a slight amount of moister protection. Thinned shellac only takes a few minutes to dry, and applying a wax only take s a minute or two, so this process is very quick.
You can buy my “Ye Olde Beeswax Wood Finish For Furniture” here.
You don’t have to do any finishing on the interior drawer parts if you don’t want to. I just find that it makes the drawer interior look nicer for a longer period of time. And it offers protection from dirt and grime, and also moisture (when I wipe clean the drawer with a damp cloth).
I did an ammonia fuming on these tables and drawers, so the Shellac prevented the drawer box from any darkening.
Drawer stops are added to stop the drawer from going too far into the table. They stop the drawer front even with the drawer rails. I simply glue little blocks on the lower front drawer rail.
On these particular night stands I used a historical finishing method called “fuming” with ammonium hydroxide, or Ammonia as it’s known to most people. In a confined space, the ammonia will react with the tannin in the white oak, darkening it. You can check out my article and video tutorial on fuming these tables here.
After a couple days of fuming in my plastic tent, the end tables look dark and lovely. But not as lovely as when adding a finish. The grain just pops when adding a finish like this. A recipe and instructions for this great penetrating, yet protective, wipe on finish can also be found below.
I then add a drawer bottom. As mentioned earlier, the drawer bottom’s grain runs side to side, which means the wood will move front to back. This is why the drawer back is kept out of the way.
The drawer bottom is beveled with a hand plane, slid into the drawer bow, and then attached to the drawer bottom with a screw. The screw hole in the drawer bottom is slightly larger than the screw, so that seasonal wood movement won’t destroy the drawer. I make the hole oval shaped. I like to use historical-style slotted screws for this purpose. You can check out my video blog post on making affordable historical slotted screws here.